What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition which causes many prejudices and misinformation. Today we clear up some of the most frequent doubts around it.
What Is Asthma?

Written by Josberth Johan Benitez Colmenares, 12 August, 2021

Last update: 12 August, 2021

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019 asthma affected 262 million people and caused 461,000 deaths worldwide. You can consult its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options in different articles that we have prepared in this regard.

Now we’ll focus on answering all the questions regarding this condition. We hope you find the answers helpful.

1. Can asthma be cured?

No, asthma is a disease for which no definitive cure has been found. However, there are many options to treat it. Generally, the approach is to adhere to medications and avoid whatever triggers the attacks.

If asthma can’t be cured, then why do some patients seem to have outgrown the disease? The answer to this is found in remission.

There are many studies and research that have tried to understand remission episodes. These are usually classified into two types:

  • Clinical remission: This refers to the absence of symptoms, but with a certain degree of deterioration in lung function.
  • Complete remission: In this case, there’s an absence of both the symptoms and the deterioration of respiratory function. Patients in complete remission are unlikely to relapse in the future.

Specialists aren’t sure what mechanisms influence remission. What experts do know, however, is that it occurs more frequently when the condition develops during the first years of life. In contrast, late-onset, childhood eczema, allergic rhinitis, and exposure to tobacco smoke are associated with lower chances of remission.

Exposure to tobacco smoke in asthma.
Exposure to tobacco smoke increases the chances of chronic asthmatic disease.

2. Why do people get asthma?

The exact causes of asthma haven’t been found, but our understanding of the disease has led us to determine several risk factors. There’s a belief that it’s more common today than in the past, but this is actually due to improved diagnostic processes.

Based on information from Asthma Canada, we can summarize some of its risk factors as follows:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Allergies
  • Premature birth
  • Occupational exposures to substances that lodge in the lung
  • Ambient air quality
  • Obesity

It isn’t uncommon for the disease to occur due to the combination of several of these factors. Asthma is often made worse by what are known as triggers. These are divided into allergic and non-allergic. The former causes allergic reactions. They can be mites, dust, or pet dander, among others.

The second are related to irritants. An example is environmental pollution, tobacco smoke, or cold. Some emotional changes can make symptoms worse, as evidence has pointed out.

3. What happens in my airways when I suffer from asthma?

Patients with asthma have sensitive airways. In the presence of a trigger, they overreact and limit the air that enters the lungs.

Asthma UK indicates the three processes that can occur in this context:

  • The muscles in the walls of the airways contract. This causes the channel to be narrower and, therefore, the airflow is limited.
  • The lining of the airways becomes inflamed.
  • Mucus or phlegm builds up in the air channels, narrowing the airway.

Any of these three things can happen during an asthma episode, although several can also coexist at the same time. All this causes the typical symptoms of the disease: wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

4. What’s an asthma attack?

Asthma attacks are the manifestation of the signs produced by any of the three previous processes. The disease doesn’t manifest itself 24 hours a day, but rather occurs through intermittent episodes (also known as exacerbations).

The attacks can be mild, moderate, or severe. According to the intensity, they will last for minutes or even a couple of days. Severe episodes can be life-threatening.

Quick-relief medications, such as bronchodilators in the form of inhalers, are used to treat them. Attacks are less frequent when the patient takes the medication prescribed by the specialist.

5. Do medications to treat the disease have adverse effects?

Yes they do, although these are proportionally lower than the risks if you stop taking medication. In general, reactions vary according to the drug, age, doses, and how often the intake is maintained.

Following the evidence in this regard, here are some of the most frequent side effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Canker sores in the oral cavity
  • Dyspepsia
  • Urticaria

This doesn’t mean that all these signs will develop if you keep taking the medication. However, there’s a chance that you’ll experience one or more over the course of the treatment. If so, you can talk to your specialist about it.

6. Why is my condition worse at night?

There are many factors that can make symptoms worse at night. The presence of several triggers becomes evident during the night hours:

  • A drop in temperature
  • Mites, dust, and other allergens on pillows, blankets, or mattresses
  • Additional pressure in the airways according to the position you choose when sleeping
Inhaler for asthma.
Adherence to treatment controls symptoms and the possibility of reducing acute episodes.

7. Can I exercise if I’m asthmatic?

Although, in some cases, exacerbations can be caused by physical activity, experts recommend that asthmatic patients do exercise. Exercise, especially the aerobic type, can produce improvements in lung function and reduction of symptoms.

If you experience mild or moderate asthma episodes during training, it’s a sign that the condition isn’t controlled. Consult with the specialist to determine the possible influence of a trigger or consider adjusting the dose or type of medications.

8. Are alternative therapies effective in controlling the disease?

Apart from the main treatment, there are dozens of alternative therapies for asthma. There’s no evidence that alternative medicine brings greater benefits than standard treatment for the disease. Some slight improvements have been linked to the placebo effect, so patients shouldn’t adhere to them as a first option.

Some of them can be dangerous, as, if you abandon your medication, you’ll increase the chances of the episodes becoming more frequent and intense. If you want to explore some of the therapies, report it to the specialist so that it doesn’t conflict with any active ingredient in your medication.

We advise you to be wary of approaches that promise to cure asthma. The term natural is often associated with healthy, but this isn’t a rule.

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